“A Ruin, More or Less, or a Place of Dark Nostalgia”: Prison Tourism and the Mobilization of Dark Heritage at Kingston Penitentiary

Thumbnail Image
Jaques, Bronwyn
Dark tourism , Prison tourism , Penal heritage , Creative economy , Kingston Penitentiary , Exhibitions , Cultural diplomacy , Meta-soft power , Contact zones , Cultural Studies , Place-branding , Brian Jungen , Geoffrey James
Through case studies of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission’s Kingston Pen Tours and other prison-themed heritage and art exhibitions, this research project examines the phenomenon of “dark tourism,” defined as the act of travel to places associated with death and suffering. This project analyzes the ways that Kingston’s penitentiary history exists at the intersection of dark heritage tourism, place branding, and cultural diplomacy and how Kingston’s penitentiary heritage has been utilized through tourism and exhibitions to enhance, rather than undermine, the region’s image and attractiveness through the accumulation of “meta-soft power.” By considering which (and whose) stories are privileged in local prison heritage curation and promotion and why, this research questions how the City of Kingston and its local stakeholders have managed and controlled the region’s dark heritage as “Canada’s Penitentiary Capital” and mobilized it to promote local tourism and serve political agendas. This project also examines the ways that “unofficial” or counter-hegemonic representations of penal heritage in contemporary art exhibitions create opportunities for greater honesty, nuance, and critique in the narratives that are disseminated. These narratives challenge how the public thinks about incarceration and those who are incarcerated and possess the potential to spark social and institutional change. Finally, this research calls for greater inclusion, consultation, and collaboration with incarcerated communities and other groups affected by the justice system at penal heritage sites, such as the Kingston Pen Tours. In so doing, these sites would better realize their potential as “contact zones,” spaces of collaboration, consultation, and contestation between and amongst different cultures. Ultimately, this project recommends the adoption of an agonistic curatorial approach in the Kingston Pen Tours and other penal heritage sites.
External DOI